Plenty of digital nomads head to Mexico to take advantage of the tropical vibe and to avoid the red tape involved with remote working in the USA.
The Yucatán Peninsula has always been the top chill-out spot, and Playa del Carmen is the favorite digital nomad hangout, with a lively cafe and co-working culture, fast connections, and easy access to beaches, reefs, ruins and cenotes (sinkholes).
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel. Check the latest guidance before departure, and always follow local health advice.
Why should digital nomads choose Playa del Carmen?
In atmosphere and spirit, Playa del Carmen leans more toward backpacker Tulum than package-tour Cancún. Nonetheless, this pretty beach town is firmly angled toward outsiders, so nomads looking for an authentic Mexican experience may be a little disappointed. On the other hand, there’s a strong sense of community here among remote workers, and plenty of other nomads to share the experience with.
Travelers from most countries can stay for 180 days without a visa, but border officials generally stamp either 30, 60 or 90 days on the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) you are granted on arrival. If you plan to stay longer, either explain to the officials when you arrive (you may need to show an onward ticket and proof of funds to support yourself), extend with the local immigration office, or cross the border to a neighboring state and re-enter with a new FMM.
Best co-working spaces
Central, smart and fast, Nest Coworking has a sustainable ethos, a strong community spirit, and a regular program of events, networking sessions and socials. There’s coffee, a kitchen, and hammocks to chill on (this is Mexico, after all).
If you don’t mind heading inland from the beach, Work Zone Coworking offers a quiet work environment, lower prices and a chance to connect with the local remote working community. There’s a simple cafe, and a wealth of eating options nearby.
Wi-fi is everywhere in Playa del Carmen and, while not lightspeed, download speeds of 10 Mbps are common; and many co-working spaces offer speeds of ten times that. AT&T/Unefon offers patchy 4G coverage in the center.
Many start with Airbnb accommodations but there are plenty of rooms and apartments for rent for longer-term stays. There are loads of local letting agents, or try asking around on expat-oriented Facebook groups, or at co-working spaces. For cheap eats, avoid the touristy spots around La Quinta Avenida and dine in local restaurants, or graze on street food: tacos, burritos and tortas. The city bus and colectivo (shared van) network is limited, so get used to walking, riding a bike or taking a taxi.
Things to do when you're not working
Snorkel or dive off Cozumel – a 40-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen will drop you in one of the Caribbean’s diving playgrounds; or you can snorkel straight off the rocks on the west coast.
Rent a cabaña at Tulum – with its beach huts, crystal waters, Mayan ruins and rainforest reserves, laid-back Tulum serves up the best of the Mayan peninsula; it’s popular, but arrive at the ruins of Tulum or Cobá at opening time and you’ll still feel like a jungle explorer.
Swim in a sinkhole – dive into pools of impossible blue amid the tropical forest; Cenote Chaak Tun is within the Playa del Carmen city limits.
Pros and cons
As with every travel experience in any destination, there are good bits and bad. Here's a breakdown of things to consider:
Playa del Carmen is great for:
★ Cost of living
★ US-friendly time zone
★ Strong sense of community
★ Tropical weather
★ Adventure activities in non-work time
Playa del Carmen is not so great for:
★ Affordable food
★ Avoiding crowds in season
★ Diverse culture
Climate: December to April brings perfect weather (and tourists) to the Riviera Maya. Tourist crowds lessen from May to August, but high temperatures and humidity can be uncomfortable. September to November see peak rainfall and possible tropical storms.
Getting there: Cancún International Airport, Cancún. Buses run to Playa del Carmen from across Mexico, with easy transfers across the border to the US, Belize, Guatemala and beyond.
Living costs: From US$1000 per month.
- Lonely Planet’s Mexico and Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán guidebooks
- Incidents of Travel in Yucatán by John L Stephens
- The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy
- Digging in Yucatán by Ann Axtell Morris
This extract is from Lonely Planet's Digital Nomad Handbook, available now at Lonely Planet Shop.